Earlier this morning, as I read ProPublica’s latest tome on how the wealthiest Americans exploit every loophole in the byzantine tax code, I couldn’t help but think that Peter Thiel must have been beaming.
Thiel, after all, is exposed in the piece for turning a retirement account into a financial gusher that kept his money away from the IRS. On some level, this wasn’t news. As far back as 2009, Gawker reported that Thiel’s Facebook shares were held in his Roth IRA. But the news brand, which Thiel later exsanguinated, suggested the holdings amounted then to about $100 million. According to ProPublica, it’s now more like $5 billion. And Thiel, who views the American tax regime as confiscatory, has to see this ability to outsmart the eggheaded bureaucrats as a form of patriotism, a way of beating a system that he thinks is stupid to begin with. As concerned as he is about the privacy violation, there’s probably a part of Thiel that wishes someone at the IRS had leaked this years ago.
The ProPublica investigations are praiseworthy for the extensive documentation of what is generally common knowledge in the Tribeca-Menlo Park-Holmby Hills vortex: The uber-rich capitalize on well-intentioned tax loopholes meant for middle-class people, which is how Jeff Bezos could claim a $4,000 child tax credit when he had a net worth of $18 billion. They use charitable deductions meant to encourage mom-and-pop philanthropy to make themselves look like paupers. And tax policy meant to create a comfortable nest egg for working people can be twisted into a tax shelter that allows billionaires like Thiel to operate in their own stratosphere.